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Basilisk the Lizard

The Basilisk lizards are slender with well developed and elongated limbs. The lizards also have a helmet like heat and an erectable crest running down their backs which resembles a sail. Generally the Basilisks feed on vegetables and variety of proteins a property which makes them omnivorous. The Basilisks breed in captivity and lay eggs in ground burrows. One of the unique properties of Basilisk the lizard is its ability to jump from tall trees where it spends most of its time, onto water where it can stride on the water for a significant distance without sinking. It is for this reason that the lizard is sometimes called ‘Jesus lizard’. According to Glasheen & McMahon (2009), the ability of organisms living in the interface between air and water to survive depends on their buoyant bodies. Therefore the maximum speed that these organisms can attain is always limited by the resistance of the waves. For a reptile like basilisk lizards (Basiliscus basiliscus) are able to stride on water significantly by supporting their bodies on the water surface through repeated strikes on the surface by their specially adapted webbed feet. This seemingly unique ability is achieved by slapping on the water surface while stroking the foot downwards, which creates the effect of an expanding air cavity under the water. The lizard also reduces the force of gravity by withdrawing its foot upward before the air cavity collapses. This paper will look at some of the unique adaptations of the Basilisk lizard including aspects such as evolutionary history, geographical distribution, reproduction, digestive system and nutrition among other factors. However it is first important to look at the taxonomical classification of the Basilisk lizard.

Previously the Basilisk lizard was included under the family Iguana but presently the Basilisks have their own family having one genera and four species. Additionally the lizards have also been identified as the ‘New World’ family due to the fact that they are found in the continent of North America in Central America from Cost Rice and Panama to Columbia in South America. The Basilisk lizard belongs to the Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Chordata (animals with notochords), Sub-phylum Vertebrata (animals with a vertebral column), Class Reptilia (reptiles), Order Squamata (lizards and snakes), Suborder Lacertilia (Lizards), Family Iguanidiae, Genus Basiliscus and Species B. plumifrons. There are a variety of the Basilisk lizards which include the Green Basilisk, Plumed Basilisk, Double-crested, Striped Basilisk and the Red-Headed Basilisk. Since these are just individual adaptations brought about by environmental differences the paper will look at the common features they possess and why they are collectively known as Basilisk lizards.

Physical Appearance

The physical appearance and the spatial position and arrangement of body organs is very important for any organism during breeding, feeding, escaping from predators and even how it blends in a particular environment. Basilisks may generally have a green turquoise or brown color depending on the particular environment that they occupy to act as camouflage when hunting and when avoiding predators. The Basilisk posses a long tail which acts as a rudder when rudder providing balance to prevent the lizard fro toppling over. The Basilisk also posses very large eye lids which enable the eye ball to rotate so that the lizard can scan front, back, top and bottom at any given time without having to turn the whole head. This adaptation also ensures that the lizard can prey effectively and escape from danger efficiently. The lizard has four legs and its body is covered with overlapping scales a characteristic of most reptiles. A cross section of the body reveals that the lizard is tall and thin. In order to assist the Basilisk in striding on water it has toes that are long and fringe like scales. Basilisks range from a length of 0.6-0.8 meters but generally male Basilisks are much larger than the females and posses a crest on its occiput and a large dorsal crest running on its back. The male crest is held in position by elongations of the neural spines. The overall physical adaptations enable the Basilisk to run at a speed of up to seven miles per hour. The Basilisks are also good climbers, swimmers and jumpers. The Basilisks assume a quadruped gait when moving slowly but mat revert to an almost biped gait when moving very fast especially on water. The Habitat of the Basilisk includes river shores, lakes and tree tops. The Basilisks generally like humid and tropical areas like rain forests.

Digestive System

The digestive system of large organisms start from the mouth to anus consisting of coordinating functions of various organs and physiological processes depending on the type of food consumed by the organism. The diets of the Basilisks mainly consist of small invertebrates, small animals like snakes, birds, fish and insects. The teeth of the Basilisk lizards resemble the teeth of most other lizards where they are attached to the mandibles but however lacking a socket. The teeth are periodically shed and replaced.
Breeding and Reproduction

Reproduction constitutes a very important aspect for all organisms because it ensures continuity for a particular species, without reproduction members of a particular species may soon die out and become extinct and this may be contributed by a number of factors including environmental factors. It is also important that breeding and reproduction be regulated by mechanisms such as environmental factors to prevent the overpopulation of a particular species which may lead to scarce resources such as food and shelter. Generally lizards have breeding seasons when the male and the female are ready to copulate and reproduce. The reproduction period for Basilisk lizards is determined by many factors most of which depend on climate and other environmental factors all of which collectively create the conditions favorable for reproduction and breeding. For the Basilisk the breeding seasons depend on factors such as temperature, rainfall and the availability of food apparently to ensure that the offspring will have enough to eat. The male Basilisk is very territorial especially during the mating season. The male Basilisk also has a paired Hemipenis. The Hemipenis is usually hidden within the body and produced during copulation and they usually resemble sacks. Basilisks and most other lizards use only one hemipenis at any one activity of copulation. The female Basilisk possesses a pair of ovaries and oviducts. Breeding season requires that the humidity be relatively high around 80% and the temperature to be optimal. During copulation the male Basilisk usually grabs the female by the skin on the back and the copulation may last for about 20 minutes. The females thereafter get fatter if the mating was successful. The pregnant female then digs a trench in relatively moist soil where she will lay about 18 to 20 eggs. The soil is thereafter covered and the eggs are left to incubate on their own. After the female lay the eggs it takes about eight to ten weeks for the eggs to hatch and the hatching process goes on for about two days before completion. The young Basilisks live in trees where they feed on insects. The hatched Basilisk takes about two years to reach sexually maturity. The average lifespan of a Basilisk is around 7 years.

The Nervous System and Sense Organs

The nervous system in higher animals is very complex because it consists of the brain, the spinal cord and network of nerves running all over the body to the peripherals. The nervous system enables an organism to respond to changes in the environment appropriately. For instance when the temperatures are too high the organism will be able to detect and move to a cooler place. The climate change from time to time and it is important that the Basilisk detect and respond appropriately. The sense organs work hand in hand with the nervous system because they receive the external messages and transfer them to the nervous system for processing before an appropriate action can be taken. Although the system is complex the most important thing is the coordination of the sensory, the processing and the response processes.  The brain of the Basilisk like the brain of all other reptiles is well developed and advanced than for other organisms such as fish. However the brain is still small and constitutes no more than one percent of the total body mass. The ear of Basilisk like most reptiles posses an ear that has two functions; hearing and vestibular. Usually the tympanic membrane of the ear is visible from the outside inside a shallow depression on the sides of the head. The membrane is always covered with a thin and transparent skin.


The Basilisk lizard has drawn much attention due to its unique ability to run over water, a property which has even earned it the name “Jesus Lizard.” However scientifically it can be established that the property helps the organism to quickly escape from predators due to the fact that the lizard likes to live near water bodies. The Basilisk is also a good climber and swimmer. Apart from the ability to walk over water the Basilisk like all animals posses other characteristics that enable it to survive optimally in the environment. Factors such as reproduction, feeding and respiration are however common to all organisms regardless of the species or size. However varieties exist depending on various factors including environment and size. Threats to the Basilisk lizard include factors such as diseases and parasites and changes in the environment as a result of global warming.

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